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All The Town's A Stage

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I almost missed the train. Sunday morning. The one time of the week it feels possible to not encounter traffic on the northbound Harbor Freeway from South Central, I'm poking along in a cattle herd of cars that's discovering all too slowly that the downtown offramps are closed. I try and fight the panic, and contain the pooling sense of irony: here I am stressing out driving to get to Union Station to ride the Metro in order to save myself the stress of driving, and to see up close the South Central I just left... I breathe deep and deploy in my head that meditative mantra of all Angelenos: whatever. My husband is too annoyed with my general tendency toward tardiness to join in any kind of relaxation. He's an Angeleno, but thanks to his family history, he has the intensity and pessimism of a New Yorker--a bad heritage at moments like these.

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But this being L.A., city of sometimes happy endings, we didn't miss the train. Actually, there was a performance half an hour before it even pulled out of the station. See, the train we caught yesterday was just a vehicle (literally and otherwise) for a theatrical production called "Meet Me @ Metro," an ambitious one-day event staged by the Watts Village Theater Company. The show was a collage of performances by the WVTC and various other companies that entertained the moving audience at five stops along the red and blue lines, from Union Station to the 103rd station in Watts. Actors, dancers, musicians and even a puppeteer turned lobbies, stairwells and an outdoor landing into theaters; among the many inspired moments was WTVC's opening mini-play, "The Hub of the Universe Part 1," a kind of impressionistic, choreographed farce that cast L.A. as both an eternal mystery and an eternally blank canvas on which any story can be written.

Of course it's also a city of autos, which means we all pass each other up, even at bus stops and train stations. One of the most fascinating things to watch was how passersby who wandered onto the "stage" of the Union Station lobby instantly became actors in the drama, even if they simply walked from point A to point B. The device of the roving play was an ingenious way to illuminate L.A., to throw a random spotlight--or a raised curtain--onto the civic life and realize what a wonderful show we really have here. This public performance stuff happens in New York all the time--New York IS a public performance. But when it happens here, when our elusive city suddenly reveals itself without meaning to, it's like sun flashing on the surface of water. It's magic.

I took the magic with me (along with my by-now somewhat mollified husband) on the ride back from Watts. Outside the window, the truck yards, stacks of wooden pallets and piles of silver metal looked to me not like urban ruin, but inspired sets; inside the train, the black man peddling bottled water and the Latino man selling beaded jewelry up and down the aisles were not just poor folk making money on a Sunday, but characters with whole backstories and intrigue. Can't wait for the next act.

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